~ Body, Soul, Spirit ~
Armed with these understandings about the nature and cause of death, and about the two deaths, let us now go back and see if we can properly understand the definition of the word soul, as it is used in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
Actually, there are three different elements that make up a human being; the body, the soul and the spirit, as it is written:
"May the God of shalom make you completely holy -- may your entire spirit, soul and body be kept blameless for the coming of our Lord Y'shua the Messiah. The one calling you is faithful, and he will do it." (I Thess. 5:23-24 CJB)
* The Body *
The body is the physical form that we see with our eyes and feel with our hands. It is the flesh, bone, sinew, nerves, glands, blood, etc., which make up the human body. It is all of those things which exist in a body whether it is living or dead. However, in the case of a dead body, all of those physical elements will begin to decay until they are ultimately returned to dust.
* The Soul *
What then is the soul? Again, we need to go back to the second chapter of Genesis to find out:
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Gen. 2:7 KJV)
The word for 'soul' in Hebrew is nephesh (neh'-fehsh, Strong's #5315). It is the life source which causes us to be physically alive rather than dead. What is it that causes the body to live? It is the blood, for when the body ceases to take in oxygen, pass it to the blood and then circulate that blood, the result is death. That is why the Scriptures teach us that:
"'... the life of the flesh is in the blood ...'" (Lev. 17:11a)
What is most astounding about this verse is that it clearly tells us that the 'soul' or nephesh is in the blood. For the word translated 'life' in Lev. 17:11 is the exact same word as the word 'soul' in Genesis 2:7. Both are the Hebrew word nephesh, #5315.
When God created Adam, He formed him out of the dust of the ground. Put another way, God formed Adam out of the elements of the earth. He created the tissue, the bone, the sinews, the blood, the glands, the nerves; all of those things which make up the physical human body. Then God breathed the "breath of life" into Adam and Adam became 'alive,' he became a 'living soul' or a 'living being.'
When the body becomes sufficiently traumatized, from either injury or disease, so that it can no longer continue taking in oxygen and circulating it through the blood; then the physical life force (the soul) ceases to function and the body dies. In the process that physical life force, or what is commonly called the 'soul,' also dies. In this respect, man is no different from the animal kingdom, for they too are said to have a nephesh, or 'soul.'
"Then God said, 'Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures [nephesh or souls] ...'" (Gen. 1:20a)
"Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh or soul] according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind;' and it was so." (Gen. 1:24)
"'Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life [nephesh or soul] ...'" (Gen. 1:30)
So every animated living thing in which there is the breath of life (whether it is in the sea, the air or on the earth), is considered to be a nephesh, or a living soul. In respect to our body, and the physical life force that circulates throughout it, we are no different from any other living creature on the earth.
"Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul [nephesh] shall live because of thee." (Gen. 12:13 KJV)
"'Yes, I will make many peoples astonished at you, and their kings shall be horribly afraid of you when I brandish My sword before them; and they shall tremble every moment, every man for his own life nephesh or soul], in the day of your fall.'" (Ezek. 32:10)
"And Samson said, 'Let me [nephesh or my soul] die with the Philistines!'" (Judges 16:30a)
"'And as for you, remain outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person [nephesh or soul], and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day.'" (Num. 31:19)
"Then God said to him: 'Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life [days many] for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life [nephesh or soul] of your enemies ...'" (I Kings 3:11)
"Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul [nephesh] unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors." (Isa. 53:12)
In the New Testament the Greek word from which 'soul' is always translated is psuche (sue'-kay, Strong's #5590). This word is used one hundred and four times in the New Testament Scriptures. It is translated as 'soul' fifty-four times and as 'life' a total of forty times. Other translations include 'mind' and 'heart.'
"'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life [psuche or 'soul'] are dead.'" (Matt. 2:20)
"...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life [psuche or soul] a ransom for many.'" (Matt. 20:28)
"'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life [psuche or soul] for the sheep.'" (John 10:11)
"By this we know love, because He laid down His life (psuche or soul) for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives [psuche or souls] for the brethren." (I John 3:16)
"'He who finds his life [psuche or soul] will lose it, and he who loses his life [psuche or soul] for My sake will find it.'" (Matt. 10:39)
It should now be clear that in both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures the 'soul' (nephesh or psuche) is the living physical body.
The confusion about the nature of the 'soul' has stemmed primarily from the way in which our English Scriptures have been translated. If the translators had used "living being" or "living creature" instead of the word "soul," most of the confusion would disappear. However, since most Bible translators hold to the Greek doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul, they tend to write their theology into the Bible translations by using the English word 'soul.'
* Spirit *
What then separates man from animal? It can only be the third element of human life, the spirit. It is clear from both the Greek and the Hebrew Scriptures that man has an individual spirit which is ll is own:
"For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?" (I Cor. 2:11a)
"But there is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding." (Job 32:8)
Once again we are dealing with two words in Greek and Hebrew which are synonymous. The Greek word is pneuma (new'-mah, Strong's #4151) and the Hebrew is ruach (roo-ach,Strong's #7307). Both are defined as breath, wind, or spirit. Spirit is used to describe the unseen force which animates every human being. It is this unseen spiritual force that imparts intellect and personality to the individual, as opposed to the 'soul' which imparts life.
At death, the spirit returns to God, while the life or 'soul' ceases to exist and the body decomposes:
"Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit [ruach] will return to God who gave it." (Eccl. 12:6-7)
"For as the body without the spirit [pneuma] is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (James 2:26)
When the lifeblood ceases to flow, the respiratory system shuts down, and the spirit in man returns to the one who gave it (that is God in heaven), then the physical body (along with the life force or 'soul') dies.
Now the question arises; if man does not have an immortal soul, does he have an immortal spirit instead? Is it possible that the concept is correct but the terminology is wrong? In one sense this could be true, for it is clear that the human spirit is something that is given to us by God when we are in the womb and is taken back at death:
"'For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.'" ` (Luke 1:44)
However, this does not mean that these departed spirits are conscious of their surroundings and of what is happening on earth, for while the spirits of the departed are held within God's care, there is no evidence from the Scriptures that they retain consciousness. On the contrary, it seems apparent they are in a condition that we might liken to dreamless sleep.
One story in the Old Testament which tends to confirm this position is when king Saul went to the witch at En Dor in an attempt to call up the spirit of the prophet Samuel. This was, of course, strictly forbidden by the Torah, and had also been forbidden by king Saul himself. However, Saul assured the witch that she would not be harmed if she conducted a séance for him, so she agreed:
"When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, 'Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!'
"And the king said to her, 'Do not be afraid. What did you see?' And the woman said to Saul, 'I saw a spirit [elohim or gods] ascending out of the earth.'
"So he said to her, 'What is his form?' And she said, 'An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.' And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.
"Now Samuel said to Saul, 'Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?'" (I Sam. 28:12-15a)
If indeed this apparition actually was the 'spirit' of Samuel, it is apparent that the witch had disturbed that 'spirit' from a state of inactivity. However, another possible explanation for this scene is that God sent an angel (fallen or otherwise) to carry the message to Saul that he was to be defeated in battle and would himself suffer death. The fact that the term elohim (which means 'gods' and which sometimes refers to angels [see Psalm 8:5]) is used to identify what came up, (instead of ruach which means 'spirit'); and the fact that it came up out of the ground, seems to point to the later explanation.
Another passage that is often used to 'prove' the Immortality of the Soul is found when the fifth seal is opened in the book of Revelation:
"When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls [psuche] of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.
"And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'
"And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed." (Rev. 6:9-11)
While this seems to be a compelling case for the doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul, it can also be read as an analogy similar to the one found in Genesis chapter 4, where God speaks about the "blood" of Abel crying out from the ground:
"And He said, 'What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground.'" (Gen. 4:10)
Obviously blood does not speak, and, in all likelihood, neither do the 'souls' or 'spirits' of dead men and women, but both can be used in a metaphorical sense to communicate a profound spiritual image.
~ Death is Like Sleep ~
A number of scriptures liken death to being asleep:
"Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;" (Psalm 13:3)
"And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? For now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be." (Job 7:21 KJV)
"And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep (lie down) with thy fathers ...." (Deut. 31:16 KJV)
Some view the phrase ("lie down with thy fathers"), along with those passages which speak of being "gathered to his people" (see Gen. 49: 33), as indicating the collecting of the deceased person's immortal soul to those of one's departed relatives. However, in actual fact, it has to do with ancient burial practices. It was the custom, when someone died, to first place their body in a sarcophagus. This was a box much like a modern coffin, although it was usually carved out of stone. However, since the body was not embalmed, the flesh would rapidly decay. Once all the flesh was gone, and only the bones remained, they would be gathered up and placed in a smaller container called an ossuary. Often times, ossuaries contained the bones of other family members as well. Thus, one was gathered to (the bones of) his fathers.
~ The Revivified Spirit ~
It appears that God somehow preserves each person's 'spirit' and uses it to revivify a resurrected body and soul. Some have likened the storing of the spirit to the storage of music on a magnetic tape or compact disk (CD). The information on the cassette or CD is not available to hear (i.e., does not have a personality) unless one has the appropriate machine (i.e., 'body') on which to play it. However, once the tape or disk is placed in a proper playing device (the 'body'), and the device is activated by an energy source (the 'soul'), then the information (the 'spirit') comes alive, and the entire room can be filled with music.
It may be somewhat the same with man's spirit. Somehow God stores the spirits (intellect, memory and personality) of those who have died, although we do not know how it is done. They are silent now, but at some future time those spirits will be reunited with their resurrected bodies and souls, and the world will once again be filled with the sounds of their voices and the force of their personalities. This is the Hope of the Resurrection.
~ Summary ~
Let us see if we can summarize the nature of life and death in a reasonably succinct manner.
"The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 15:56-57)
"So when corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' "'O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?'" (I Cor. 15:54-55)
At the appropriate time, God will resurrect to life every single individual who has ever lived. That is the subject of the next article: The Hope of the Resurrection.
We pray this article has been a blessing to you by bringing you a Scriptural understanding of life and death, and of the three components of human life: body, soul and spirit.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
1 However, Y'shua taught that if one does not forgive, neither will they be forgiven. (See Matt. 18:32-35 and Luke 6:31-38)
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